Station Plaza Coffee Shop and Diner has a special place in the hearts—and stomachs—of hundreds of Mineola residents, as well as the many commuters that pass through the Mineola train station. But the shop went dark recently, as family, friends, staff and customers mourned the sudden loss of owner Nikolaos “Nick” Liakonis.
Liakonis died of a stroke on March 21, just three weeks after he found out he was in remission from lymphoma. Liakonis fought cancer three times, and those that knew him say he wasn’t just a fighter in his health, but in all areas of life. Liakonis immigrated to the United States from a small village in Greece when he was 18 years old. He first lived in Detroit with his brother, teaching himself English by reading the newspaper every day. He later moved to New York, where he met his wife, Tula, through mutual friends at a donut shop he frequented (her dad was the owner and she worked there). The two were married in 1974. He began working at Station Plaza Coffee Shop and Diner in the ‘70s, buying the shop in 1980, and moving the family out to Albertson so they could be closer to the business.
But for Liakonis, owning the shop wasn’t just about making a quick buck—it was about the people.
“He loved his customers. It wasn’t business, it was a pleasure for him,” said Liakonis’ son, Billy. “He went out of his way to talk to his customers, they were his friends and they were family. He really loved his life and talking to people. He really cared.”
Liakonis remembered people’s names, families and stories. He went out of his way to talk to customers and ask how they were doing.
“Nick was like a friend to me and always concerned about his customers. We always compared our illness and laughed about it,” said Nat Infurna, a frequent diner patron.
Judy DaVanzo remembers going to the shop often with her father, John.
“We were always so warmly welcomed by Nick. He was always smiling and took time to share a few words,” DaVanzo said. “He was truly a wonderful man with a genuine soul.”
He expanded the shop in 2004, as well as bought several properties in Mineola over the years.
“He came here with nothing on his back and built an empire. We worked hard and for the first 25 years [after buying the shop] we had no vacation,” Tula said. “It wasn’t always easy at times, but we made it. We made the best of everything-the hard times and the good times.”
In the last 10 years, Liakonis had stepped back from his duties at the diner to let Billy take over. Billy grew up working with his dad at the diner and learned invaluable lessons about business from him.
“He taught me about working hard, and taking care of your customers so they take care of you,” Billy said, adding that Liakonis had an incredible work ethic. “Treat your staff like family. He was never one to not get things done, if something had to be done, he took care of it.”
When he wasn’t running the shop, Liakonis could be found with his family. He loved spending time with Tula, his wife of 41 years, as well as Billy and his two daughters, Vivian and Vickie. He was also the proud grandfather of four grandchildren.
“He was like the rock for everyone,” Tula said. “He loved his family so much. He always had a kind word to say and you could always count on him. Whatever you needed, he would be there for you.”
He helped coach his kids in soccer, and was always ready to fix whatever was broken around the house. Family always came first for Liakonis, said Billy.
“His first priority was his family and taking care of them. He really enjoyed his family and really lit up about certain things with his grandchildren,” Billy said. “He was always good to be around and it was always about you, not about him.”
Tula said Liakonis would often say he was the richest man in the world because of his family.
“We were so blessed,” Tula said. “We would look at each other and say, what a beautiful thing, we’re blessed with our children and grandchildren.”
Liakonis was also a member of the village’s master plan committee. And while he will be missed by his customers and all who knew him, Mineola residents can still remember his legacy with a fresh cup of coffee and friendly service.
“We’re going to carry on his legacy,” said Tula. “Whatever he built, we’re going to continue.”